In 1998 singer and songwriter Tamara Obrovac, from Istria in Croatia, released Ulika (CBS), an album dedicated to her grandmother. Ulika Revival revisits a dozen songs from that album, presenting new renditions informed by the 15 or 16 years that lie between the two releases. The revival is a great success, a masterly collection of strikingly affecting songs.
In a global marketplace dominated by one or two languages it's refreshing to hear a singer who remains faithful to her own upbringing and to the beauty of its musical heritage. Obrovac sings in an Istrian dialect, with a style that draws on Istrian folk heritage as well as on contemporary jazz: the result is a powerfully emotive vocal that draws the listener in to the moods and images of the songs whether or not they share Obrovac's understanding of the words (helpfully, an English translation is provided in the liner notes).
Obrovac is a talented and expressive singera multi-award winning performer. The instrumentalists are every bit her equal: in his liner notes Josef Engels compares them to the Bill Evans Trio, a claim that's by no means far-fetched. Pianist Matija Dedić, bassist Ziga Golob and drummer Krunoslav Levacic all appeared on Ulika: a decade and a half later they bring their added experience to bear on these songs once more. Golob's arco bass is especially expressive on the slower songs, his pizzicato playing gives real swing to the more up-tempo numbers. Pianist Dedić comps with great style, complementing Obrovac's voice. His percussive chordal playing on "Zakantaj," (Sing) for example, is powerful but never intrusive or overwhelming: his single note runs on "Divojka" sparkle. Levačić drums with invention, given freedom by Golob's rock-solid bass foundation.
Some of the songs on Ulika Revival celebrate the simple pleasures of life. On "Tanac" (Dance) she sings of a girl who wants to dance and go to the fair. "Vinova Loza" (The Vine) is a paean to wine and the labor that goes into its creation. The little song, "Cansoneita," is a joyous celebration of falling in love. Even the wordless "Prez Besid 1" and "Prez Besid 2" seem filled with the joy of singing.
There's a darkness alongside this light. Milan Rakovac's lyrics to the bluesy "Črno Zlo" (Dark Evil) are as pessimistic and downbeat as the title suggests. On "Joh" (Dear Me) Obrovac sings "Dear me, a different time will come. Dear me, I think that maybe I'll go to Hell." Strikingly, although these lyrics may be dark and despairing, the quartet's performances emphasise the artistry of the songs and in doing so they give them an air of hopefulness. "Ulika" tells of the death of Obrovac's great-grandfather, Ulika's father, in World War 1it's a story told with sincerity and love, a very personal song to close this beautiful album.
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